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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fighting a Mostly Absent Enemy in Iraq

When is a civil war not a civil war? According to President Bush, it's when an al Qaeda plot.

Associated Press:

President Bush said Tuesday that an al-Qaida plot to stoke cycles of sectarian revenge in Iraq is to blame for escalating bloodshed, refusing to debate whether the country has fallen into civil war.

"There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place _ fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by al-Qaida causing people to seek reprisal," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a stop in Estonia.

So how is this supposed to work? Al Qaeda attacks Shia and the Shia attack the Sunnis in reprisal? His argument seems to be that everyone in Iraq is stupid.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claims 12,000 fighters, but that's terrorist propaganda. You can pretty much assume it's untrue. For a more realistic number, middle east expert Juan Cole says, "There's a technical definition of al-Qaeda: fighters who gave their loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Those are very few: a few hundred, maybe a few thousand... My information is that bin Laden is not interested in Iraq. I don't think there are even 600 al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq."

It'd be a damned good trick for a group of a few hundred to throw a country into a state of civil war. See, al Qaeda's a terrorist organization and terrorism's pretty easily lost in Iraq -- there's this war and stuff. Al Qaeda in Iraq is nothing more than a PR stunt -- there's someone there to take credit.

The AP article quotes Bush, "'The Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence and we want to help them do so,' he said. 'It's in our interest that we succeed.'" But the Iraq government is in a real tough place. They represent unity while the warring factions represent their own interests. These people aren't interested in a unified Iraq, unless it's unified under their own ideology.

Bush, for his part, is left with no choice but to repeat terrorist propaganda. By calling Iraq 'the central front in the war on terror' (A clumsy metaphor. We're fighting on two fronts, how can one be 'central'?), he forces himself to exaggerate the importance of al Qaeda in Iraq. But dealing with the situation in Iraq won't be changed by only dealing with what you want people to believe is the problem. By concentrating on the nearly absent al Qaeda group, we've allowed militias to rise who's goals are more ethnic than religious and a civil war to break out that has more to do with ethnic cleansing than islamic extremism.

Of course, we should never have gone to Iraq in the first place. Nothing we were told turned out to be true. No WMD, no ties to al Qaeda, no grateful nation greeting us as liberators. And which of our original goals have not been met? Getting rid of the WMD was done before we ever started and Saddam got fired. What is the mission now?

For a long time, I've said that Bushco wouldn't even be able to say what a win would look like. They have no strategy because they have no idea what their goals should be. Just last year, Bush told the nation in a radio address that the first step of his strategy was to "defeat the terrorists and continue helping Iraqis take greater responsibility for defending their freedom."

'Defeat the terrorists' is an objective, not a strategy. It makes me think of an old Steve Martin routine on how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes -- "First, get a million dollars." You kind of have to have some idea on how to get the million before you can move forward with this plan -- that's what you call yer 'strategy.'

If the only strategy you have in a game of chess is 'win the chess game,' you're not likely to win. And pretending you're playing against someone other than your opponent isn't going to help any.


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